Texarkana Community Journal - May 2009
Langston Hughes’s Mother to Son Legacy “A Declaration of Independence”
– By Sandra Dukes
The acclaimed poet Langston Hughes was accredited for his artistic contributions in helping to construct the “Harlem Renaissance” of the 1920s and was often called the ‘Architect’
of the early Harlem Renaissance. Hughes’s characteristic style of writing was from a realism point of view. Along with Zora Neale Hurston he felt it was important to write stories that were a reflection of African-Americans true lifestyles and culture. There were complexities in having such convictions. Hughes, felt to be true to his works, he could not idealize his people, for the sake of social and political movements. Hughes considered himself a realist and modernist and wrote of the African – American urbanites in the poetry forms of stanzas built upon a platform, of the musical rhythm of jazz and the blues, everyday speech and liberty for all people (The Norton Anthology of American Literature 1914-1945(1891-1892)).
Hughes’s poem “Mother to Son” is a testimony of what life had been for her and her race and class of people, it is a metaphoric guideline of surviving and succeeding in a life, which was demanding on the mind, body and spirit. It is a mother’s ‘legacy to her son. Her own ‘Declaration of Independence’. The speaker in this poem, the mother, is preparing her son for life and its difficulties and its rewards. “Mother to Son” is a ballad; this prose poetry exudes with satire which creates the mood and tone of forewarning against the casualties of life and the rewards of fortitude.
Mother to Son
Well, son I’ll tell you
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair
It’s had tacks in it’
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor
Bare. (Lines 1-7)
To quote Aristotle “the greatest thing by far is to be a master of metaphor”. Hughes epitomizes ‘the mastery of metaphor’, in his use of the words ‘crystal stair’ to represent ‘the mother’s journey in life’. Hughes uses the extremism of the word ‘crystal ‘to the antagonism of the mother’s attitude towards life. The life lesson she counsels to her son is enhanced by the diction of her speech. One is given possibly a better profile into ‘the mother’s background, by the manner in which she speaks. In the 1920’s when southern rural blacks migrated to the north in search of a better life, those with lesser education and skills, were sometimes employed as domestic maids. The “crystal stair”, then could symbolize an effortless life versus a life of hardship “with no tacks, splinters and boards torn-up”, representing the rebuking of discrimination of the social classes and servitude. The mother recounts to the son of her adversities through life and how she overcame them:
“But all the time
I been a-climbin’ on,
And reaching’ landin’s,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light. (Lines 8-12)
The mother counsels her son, by encouraging him to believe in himself and attain in life, what it has to offer:
So boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
‘Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now-
For I’se still going’, honey,
I’se still climbing’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair. (Lines13-20)
“The Poet Laureate of Harlem”, Langston Hughes, conveyed the heart-beat of Harlem and the ’New Negro’. Hughes’s “Mother to Son “is a mother’s gift of teaching her child that in an unjust society one must ‘declare his own independence’.
Freedom of creative expression, whether personal or collective, is one of the many legacies of Langston Hughes, who has been called “the architect” of the black poetic tradition. He is one of the world’s most universally beloved poets, read by children and teachers, scholars and poets, musicians and historians. That “freedom of creative expression” lives and flourishes, and is honored in the African American writers of today. Their voices are now for a whole America, with a tone that sings out to embrace our heritage as a complete America in efforts to become “architects” of a better America. In their pledge to allegiance these writers speak to the problems that address our families, communities, and our country and yes even our churches.
Next Month June 2009- Texarkana Community Journal (www.myspace.com/tcjnews
One such writer declaring his independence is Dr. Joseph B. Howard, Apostle, teacher, author and creator of Phoenix of Grace Writers Society and radio host of Phoenix of Grace Word in the Desert. In Dr. Howard’s new book “Battered Clergy” From Victim to Victor by W.S. Polk, Jr. he confronts the problems of domestic abuse not often or easily spoken of, in which a minister, a man suffers from verbal, emotional and physical abuse from his wife, in this book the minister finally re-claims freedom through his dedication to God and his ministry.